Wow. Is this really the final recipe of my 30-day March cooking challenge?  How the month flew by (actually, not really)! Despite some ups and downs along the way, the good news is that this challenge ended with a bang – a Peruvian bang, that is. It was also fitting to cook a Peruvian feast on Easter Sunday: you see, last year I lived in Peru and my host family cooked a 12-course potato-based Peruvian Easter feast. It was probably the most… memorable… meal I’ve ever had!

Thus, it was only appropriate to rejoice in being back in the states  commemorate that (now infamous) meal with some Peruvian food on this holiday. With lots of help from Mark, we decided to attempt to make three of our favorite Peruvian dishes: causa, ceviche, and ocopa.

Clockwise from the back - ceviche, causa, and ocopa dip

Clockwise from the back – ceviche, causa, and ocopa dip

The recipes:

  • Causa – this is a sculpted, chilled, yellow aji pepper-flavored mashed potato dish, stuffed with some type of creamy meat salad and topped with any combination of olives, avocados, and hard-boiled eggs. This is the recipe we used as our basis.
The causa without its potato topping

The causa without its potato topping

  • Ceviche – many people are familiar with this raw white fish ‘cooked’ in lime juice dish. The Peruvians serve it with sweet potatoes, corn, red onions, and cilantro over a bed of lettuce. This recipe more or less fit the bill.
This dish involved squeezing about 10 limes

This dish involved squeezing about 10 limes

  • Ocopa – this peanut sauce goes great with potatoes and chicken. It’s made with peanuts, crackers, milk, cheese, tomato, aji, garlic, cilantro, onion, and a Peruvian black mint called huacatay. We made this from memory.

Peru 3

Quick recap: I was THRILLED to find both aji amarillo (yellow spicy pepper) and huacatay (black mint) paste in Pike’s Place’s El Mercado Latino. We used sushi-grade cod for the ceviche — and first soaked it in salt water. For the causa filling, I made a chicken salad with greek yogurt (since I’m not a fan of mayo), mustard, salt and pepper.

Peruvian huacatay or  'black mint'

Peruvian huacatay or ‘black mint’

Peru 7

The verdict: With every bite, I had visions of llamas, alpacas, the high Andes Mountains and lots of potatoes. And I didn’t even need an antacid for this year’s Easter meal! The aji amarillo and the huacatay really made these dishes taste authentic.

From Ethiopian food to falafel to chicken tikka masala, this month has been quite the culinary journey and the Peruvian feast was a GREAT meal to end this challenging month-long cooking challenge!


Ever been to Nando’s Peri-Peri? Or cooked meat over a flame? Or been to Africa or Portugal?  If so, you probably know how not difficult my decision was to leave the city to go camping for the weekend with a steak and some North African/Portuguese (in origin) peri peri spice in hand. I wouldn’t call this one of my tougher challenges, but it did involve bringing two items together that I had never cooked or eaten together before.


The recipe: Peri Peri spice (purchased at Penzey’s Spices) + steak.

Quick recap: Covered steaks with peri peri spice. Made fire. Place marinated steaks on grill. Enjoyed.

The verdict: Spicy! There is a kick! But very flavorful and nothing close to my usual steak marinade. It made me think that I was in a foreign country… perhaps somewhere in Portugal… or in northern Africa!


Seattle has been experiencing some particularly gorgeous spring weather lately.  So nice, in fact, that I scrapped my plans for an oven-based dish in favor of something cool and refreshing. Like a cold soup! Gazpacho has been on my to-do list for awhile and the sunny, breezy weather on Friday finally presented me with the perfect opportunity.

The recipe: I like all things tomato and spicy, so this recipe fit the bill.


Quick recap: If you are good at chopping veggies and have a good food processor, then gazpacho is probably the easiest meal ever. I used some fresh tomatoes in addition to the canned ones and added some parsley. I served it with some chicken picata and leftover dinner rolls.

gazpacho 2

The verdict: It tasted like… gazpacho! So if you like gazpacho, make it – it’s easy and healthy.

I came home late last night and wasn’t in the mood to cook. But I was hungry and needed to fulfill my challenge in some way, so I opened the fridge and looked for inspiration. A bag of wilted spinach, a packet of half-eaten bacon, and the sharp red onions left over from my recent bulgar/barley salad stared right back at me. An internet search revealed that spinach + bacon + onions = appetizer spinach balls. They would be ‘dinner spinach balls’ tonight!


The recipe: This recipe for spinach balls contained lots of good stuff that I already had — like cheese, bread crumbs, and eggs. The pictures also looked delicious! Realizing that spinach balls would not make for a filling dinner for two people, I looked for a “quick” dinner roll recipe. This 30-minute rolls recipe only estimated 15 minutes of dough-rising time. Perfect for someone who is hungry and impatient!

Previously neglected onions + fresh spinach

Previously neglected onions + fresh spinach

Quick recap: I pre-cooked the onions (very necessary after my recent debacle) and the spinach (since I used fresh and not frozen). I played around with the spices and breadcrumbs, taking full advantage of a thyme plant in the garden. I used olive oil (instead of butter) and 1/2 whole wheat flour for the rolls.

The verdict: Spinach balls are delicious! Forget dinner spinach balls – I am bringing appetizer spinach balls to my next party.

spinach 5

Okay, so my ‘healthy food binge‘ is over and I’m earnestly trying to cook up some more of my favorite meals in the final days of this challenge (whether or not they are super healthy). Hence – penang curry. It is one of my favorite Thai restaurant dishes, but I’ve never truly figured out what was in it. Peanuts? Coconut? Something red/orange? Time to find out!

I dusted off (yep, literally) my Thai food cookbook and quickly realized that there is a reason why my taste buds were always so confused. There is a lot of stuff in penang curry paste. I had some of the odd ingredients already (like cardamom pods!). But the recipe also listed a lot of ingredients I hadn’t heard of or used before — like galangal (?!?!?!), unknown spicy chilies, and kaffir lime leaves. Uh oh. Should I cheat and buy curry paste?

Of course not! This is supposed to be a challenge! So, I squeezed in a flash trip to Lam’s Seafood Market for some lemongrass, thai basil, galangal (go figure – it looks like ginger), and some other key ingredients — but alas, they were out of kaffir lime leaves — and I had to run off to a meeting in Bellevue. Luckily, Bellevue has Asian supermarkets as well, so I visited the Asian Food Center after my meeting. Nope – they were off of kaffir lime leaves, too. The Central Co-op in Capitol Hill? Sorry, they couldn’t find kaffir lime leaves of high enough quality to stock their shelves.

Think that item is ginger? Think again! It's galangal.

Think that item is ginger? Think again! It’s galangal.

Running out of time and getting hungry, I ceased my search. I would be making penang curry without kaffir lime leaves.

The recipe: See below. I also drew inspiration from this Bon Appetit recipe.

curry recipe

Quick recap: I was overwhelmed by the chilies. I had no idea which ones I had and how many to use (without turning my tongue into a fire poker). So I was somewhat conservative. Also, blending all these ingredients together in a (not fabulous) food processor was a challenge. That galangal is tough! I added dry-fried tofu and mushrooms, onions and sugar snap peas to the curry as well. I served it with rice noodles and thai basil.

curry 2

The verdict: Interesting… let me take another bite to better assess. Flavorful. Tasty. Rich. Good amount of heat and spice. But very coconutty.  And super creamy and not at all red/orange. It’s good, but it didn’t really taste like the penang curry I know. Hmmm… probably it lacked kaffir lime leaves!!!

curry 4

You can probably tell by the title of this post that my body was craving something healthy — now that I’ve entered a new decade, I can’t handle all that birthday pizza, beer, and  the heavy chicken tikka masala like I used to. I looked around the kitchen and found a bit of barley and bulgur wheat. Both are nutrient-rich and good for soups and salad. But could you put them together and make them into something that actually tasted good? Ummmmm sure, that’s challenge worthy.

The salad (before I extracted the onions)

The salad (before I extracted the onions)

The recipe: I usually use barley in soups and bulgur wheat to make tabbouleh salad. I wanted to try something a bit different. This Orange-Dijon Bulgur Wheat Salad recipe sounded delicious and different.

Quick recap: I had to cook the barley twice as long as the bulgur wheat. I also doubled the dressing (and used honey mustard instead of dijon + sugar). I also added some raisins, cooked scallions, and roasted almonds (because nuts make everything better). I didn’t have edamame so I used peas.

The verdict: Holy red onion! Those things are potent – so much so that I decided to fish them out of my otherwise deliciously refreshing salad. They usually don’t bother me this much, so maybe I bought a bad onion? I’ll be using sauteed or sweet onions next time!

The neglected onions :(

The neglected onions 😦

Uh oh, I am almost afraid to admit this, but I took Monday off from my cooking challenge. It was my birthday, so I decided to spend the day hiking and sight-seeing instead of cooking.  I was going to end the day with a dessert or cocktail challenge, but birthday beers took over my evening and depleted my energy. Oh well – there are 31 days in March and I am attempting a 30-day challenge… so I think that I can let myself off the hook… hopefully?!

Not the kitchen

Not the kitchen

Instead of cooking...

Instead of cooking…

I have yet to meet a meat-eater who dislikes chicken tikka masala. It is just so delicious! I have to practically force myself to order new dishes when I eat out at Indian restaurants, but I ultimately come back to chicken tikka masala by the time the server comes around. I knew that I couldn’t trust the internet for this challenge – I needed a proven expert. Luckily, I have a friend who makes the best chicken tikka masala — and she was actually willing to share it with me. So, armed with Rosha’s recipe, I decided that there was better time than the present to finally try to make this Indian dish!

Rice, chicken tikka masala, and channa masala

Rice, chicken tikka masala, and channa masala

The recipe: Sorry, in respect for my friend, I’m going to keep this one a secret. If you are dying to know, ask me and I will consider sharing it (with her permission)! She also sent me the recipe for channa masala, an Indian chick pea dish, which I also attempted.

Quick recap: Not surprisingly, there is an UNBELIEVABLE amount of spices in these two dishes. Luckily, I only had to buy fenugreek leaves (thank goodness for Pike Place’s Middle Eastern spice shop, the Souk). Although not particularly complicated if you have the right spices, there are quite a few steps to making these dishes. First you have to marinate the chicken in a yogurt-spice sauce for a few hours, followed by cooking the chicken, and finally, making a creamy, tomato-based, spice-laden gravy for the chicken. The channa masala wasn’t too difficult but I had to whip out the food processor (yet again) to make a tomato/onion paste. Suffice it to say – our apartment smelled like an Indian restaurant on Sunday evening! Not that I’m complaining…

How would I have ever known that this box contained fenugreek leaves?

How would I have ever known that this box contained fenugreek leaves?

The verdict: WOW. The chicken tikka masala was almost as tasty as my friend’s (maybe because I used whole milk instead of heavy cream?). The channa masala was also tasty, but I don’t know how authentic it tasted since I had nothing to compare it to. All in all, I will be making this again — but I need to first go for a run — it is filling stuff!


This post is part of Bunny. Eats. Design.’s “Our Growing Edge” event!


DC’s Julia’s Empanadas got me hooked on these meat-filled pastries. Located around the corner from my office, they soon became my go-to, on-the-go meal. No empanada I had living in Peru lived up to Julia’s… and I have yet to find any of note in Seattle. But could I make something that even remotely resembled Julia’s prefect balance of sweet and savory? Probably not, but I guess it doesn’t hurt to try!

emp 4

The recipe: I found this recipe for ground turkey empanada filling that sounded pretty good. I used this recipe for the dough because the author called it “easy” and it included step-by-step instructions.


Quick recap: Easy? Really? What homemade crust recipe is easy? It wasn’t difficult, just time-consuming and a bit labor-intensive. My dough made six large empanadas, but I had trouble getting the dough really thin. I used a bowl to make the circles of dough and baked the empanadas at 375 degrees for 15 minutes instead of frying them. At least the turkey recipe was easy!


emp 2

emp 3

The verdict: Definitely not Julia’s, but they weren’t super far off. I wasn’t crazy about the crust (dry and too thick), but the filling was really good  (and it was even better with leftover guajillo chile sauce). (Oh, and in case you were curious, these empanadas also passed the Saturday late-night, slightly inebriated-eating test.)

emp 5

I lived in Peru last year, where quinoa was a protein staple (along with every other animal meat possible). Unlike the potato, I can still eat quinoa. But I am definitely not as psyched about it anymore. So, I challenged myself to make something with quinoa that wasn’t a salad — and included some kind of vegetable that I am afraid of — like butternut squash! Okay, I think I’ve cooked with butternut squash before (maybe once about 10 years ago) and I really love it’s rich, slightly sweet, hearty flavors. But it is just so huge! And it’s shell is so tough! It is just so easy to stick with yellow squash or even acorn squash…

butternut squash

The recipe: Martha Stewart suggested that I make a quinoa pie. If Martha likes it, then it can’t be horrible, right? (PS – Did you catch Martha’s latest talk on NPR? She is sassy — and she dated Hannibal Lecter.)

Quick recap: I needed a recap on how to peel a butternut squash. I didn’t realize that you could do it with a regular vegetable peeler. Huh – that was easy. I didn’t have sage leaves, so I added extra dried sage. Cooking the squash and the quinoa was pretty standard.

quinoa pie 3

The verdict: It did not look as classy as Martha’s pie (mine kind of looked like a giant mound), but it was much better than I ever expected (and really good for you). We went back for seconds… and then thirds. Maybe I’ll even make a crust next time. And yes, there will be a next time. And I will definitely be cooking with more butternut squash.

Wow, this looks funny.

Wow, this looks funny.

It kind of looks like a pie slice when it was plated.

It kind of looks like a pie slice when plated.